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New England Revolution vs. Chicago Fire: Know Thy Enemy

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The New England Revolution will wrap up their two-match home stand on Saturday against their bitter rivals the Chicago Fire in an encounter that is shaping up to be a basement brawl. Chicago has had a miserable season thus far and currently sits even with the Revolution on points in a tie for second-to-last place in the Eastern Conference. The Revs, meanwhile, have been just as poor lately and haven't won a match in what seems like forever, featuring the lowest-scoring attack in the league.

It's been tough to nail down any areas where Chicago are strong. Their corps of forwards are young and hungry, but the Fire haven't necessarily scored an immense number of goals, either. Diego Chaves probably brings the most heat, but contributions from Orr Barouch and Cristian Nazarit can't be discounted. At the core of things, though, is the recent feel-good factor around the Fire since Carlos De Los Cobos was sacked and Frank Klopas took over. They were inspired to their first victory in weeks against Columbus on Sunday and there's a sense in Bridgeview that things might be changing. That sort of momentum is probably the only true advantage they will bring into the match, but it might be the only one they need.

According to today's injury report, Benny Feilhaber is questionable as he recovers from his ankle sprain. Zak Boggs is doubtful with a right MCL sprain, which may explain is halftime substitution on Wednesday, and the out list has expanded considerably ahead of this weekend's tilt. Joining Marko Perovic and Ousmane Dabo are Ryan Cochrane (left hamstring strain), Didier Domi (right achilles tendonitis), and Kheli Dube (whiplash).

Today's Q&A is with Tweed Thornton of Hot Time In Old Town, SB Nation's Chicago Fire blog. I also answered several questions about the upcoming Revs vs. Fire match, which he posted over there.

TBM: This season has certainly not gone to plan for the Fire, but Sunday provided some cause for optimism when Chicago managed a 1-0 victory over Columbus at Crew Stadium. It's been a while since you guys won a game, and it's been a while since we have, too, so I have to ask: what's it feel like?

TT: The moment itself was glorious because the TV showed over 400 Fire fans that made the trip to Columbus. Cristian Nazarit scored his first MLS goal late in the game and we stole three points from long-time rivals the Crew on their home turf. Frank Klopas had some great words of wisdom after the match that showed one of the main reasons why he was made the interim head coach.

Once the euphoria cleared it didn't feel as good as I thought it would. Sporting KC won the next day so last place in the Eastern Conference is still  just four points below us. The victory meant Chicago leaped into 6th place but after Wednesday's Toronto FC vs. New England Revolution draw, the Fire are tied for 7th place with New England in the standings. Chicago is behind a playoff spot by four points and four points is a long way for a team use to compiling them one at a time. Hopefully it is one that starts a winning streak because the Fire have a long road ahead of them.

TBM: Carlos De Los Cobos followed Teitur Thordarson pretty quickly out the door as the second MLS head coach to lose his job a few weeks ago. He was replaced by his former boss, Technical Director Frank Klopas. Do you think that it was the right move for the organization to make, or was De Los Cobos given a raw deal? Can Klopas take this team back to the playoffs, and what's so different about him that he can do that when obviously the club thought Carlos couldn't?

TT: It's tough to say that Carlos de los Cobos was given a raw deal because he only obtained 45 points in 41 games overall at the time of his departure. Last year he had a quality veteran squad on paper and then was given high priced Designated Players in the middle of the season to put him over the top. He failed to make it to the playoffs. This year he was able to at least have a hand in the selection of over half of the squad and he lead them to one victory in 11 games. His defenders would say one of the Designated Players last year was a total bust (Nery Castillo), the ‘talented' veterans either checked out early or met the downswing of their careers, and over half the roster was selected by Frank Klopas. Carlos de los Cobos did a valiant job of transitioning from a veteran squad to a youthful squad. The team was one Carlos Ruiz magnigoal away from having six draws in a row. The corner was about to be turned.

Where does the truth lie? I think in Carlos de los Cobos' record as pointed out by Peter Wilt in Pitch Invasion when de los Cobos was hired in the first place.  CDLC is a decent coach but can't seem to find that winning touch.

As for Frank Klopas, life is so far so good with the former Chicago Fire player as the current Chicago Fire coach. The team is riding a 270 minute shutout streak going into Saturday night's game after giving up 19 goals in 11 games to start the season. The lineups and player rotations are pretty similar to CDLC's train of thought but Klopas is having the team not play the ball to the back so often. de los Cobos preferred for the defense to absorb pressure and score with counter attacks. Midfielders and defenders would sometimes even play the ball back from encouraging situations in the attacking half. Were the Fire one premier player or a couple of more games together from making that a successful strategy? It's tough to argue. It's also tough to argue against what Klopas has the team doing for now. I trust that Klopas understands the players and MLS better than de los Cobos did and I think the Fire have what it takes to at least eke out a 10th seed position in the playoffs this year.

TBM: Give us an under-the-radar player that Revolution fans should watch out for.

TT: One player that is looking poised to breakout is Orr Barouch. The 19 year-old forward has not made a single start this year but is 5th on the team in games played having appeared in 12 of the 14 games this year. There are few better examples of the term ‘supersub'. If you are looking up his numbers on MLSsoccer.com, be warned that his stats deceive him. Yes, he only has one goal and zero assists. It was his goal that completed the 2-0 second half draw against TFC in Toronto. When Cristian Nazarit scored the goal against Columbus on Sunday, it was Barouch that setup the rebound with a crafty run and shot inside the box.

Barouch stands to benefit the most from Gaston Puerari's sale to Atlas. Barouch might get his first start against New England now that the forward rotation has been slimmed down. Start or substitute, the Revolution will pay dearly if they ignore this player who will certainly get on the field in some manner.

TBM: Who do you think the Fire players will fear most for New England on the pitch?

TT: If Saturday were the day before Mother's Day, I would say Matt Reis. Since Saturday is the day before Father's Day, how could it be anyone but Shalrie Joseph? He is a legendary veteran MLS player that leads the Revolution in goals, shots, and is tied for the lead in assists this season.

TBM: Finally, give us your projected starting XI and a scoring prediction.

TT: New England will probably be staring down at a 4-4-2 of Sean Johnson; Jalil Anibaba, Yamith Cuesta, Cory Gibbs, Gonzalo Segares; Dominic Oduro, Logan Pause, Daniel Paladini, Patrick Nyarko; Diego Chaves, Cristian Nazarit. The wildcards are Bratislav Ristic might start at RB over Jalil Anibaba and the aforementioned Orr Barouch might start over Cristian Nazarit or Diego Chaves. Ristic started the first two games under Klopas at RB and it's possible Anibaba only started at RB against Columbus because it was on the end of a 3 games in 8 days stretch. Then again after Ristic's controversial tackle of Omar Bravo in the penalty box, Klopas may feel like he shouldn't gamble anymore. With the forwards, it's simply a matter of whether or not Klopas has decided that Barouch has earned a start or Klopas says "If it's not broke, don't fix it' and keeps Orr on the bench.

I predicted a 2-1 Chicago victory earlier this week and I'm sticking to it, Puerari or no Puerari. I would be surprised to see the Fire shutout their opponents for the first 360 minutes of the Klopas era even if your team is struggling. As for the Fire scoring two goals? The team has some swagger going and never got deflated during the long draw stretch. I think Chicago is finally putting it together.